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Charles R. Drew

Dr. Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904-April 1, 1950) was a physician and medical researcher. His medical breakthough lead to the establishment of blood banks.

Early Life

Charles R. Drew was born to Richard and Nora Drew, and was the oldest of five children. In High School and at Amherst College, Drew excelled in athletics. For two years after college, Drew worked as an athletic director, football coach, and science teacher at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1928, he entered medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Drew continued to excell in sports while at McGill, and joined British professor Dr. John Beattie in blood research. He continued his research at Montreal General Hospital, while an intern and resident.

Advanced Study

Drew received a fellowship from Howard University's Medical School, enabling him to study at Columbia University Medical School. Drew's research lead to the discovery that blood could be separated into blood plasma and red blood cells and the components frozen separately. Blood stored in this way lasted longer and was less likely to become contaminated. Dr. Drew published his findings as his doctoral thesis under the title Banked Blood.

While at Columbia University, Dr. Drew had the worked with the renowned Dr. Allen O. Whipple and with Dr. John Scutter on shock and "banked blood". Dr. Drew earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from Columbia University in 1940.

"Blood for Britain" project

By the start of World War II, Drew and other researchers were investigating ways to get life-saving blood plasma to the front lines when Charles received an urgent cablegram from his former teacher, Dr. John Beattie, who had returned to England. The cable requested 5,000 ampules of dried plasma for transfusions, plus the same amount three weeks later. Dr. Drew was appointed medical supervisor of the "Blood for Britain" project, which saved the lives of many wounded soldiers.

US Red Cross Service

Following this, Charles Drew was named director of the Red Cross Blood Bank and assistant director of the National Research Council, in charge of blood collection for the United States Army and Navy. At this point Drew argued against the armed forces directive that blood was to be separated by the race of the donor. Dr. Drew argued that there was no racial difference in blood and that the policy would lead to needless deaths as soldiers and sailors had to wait for "same race" blood.

After the war, Drew accepted the Chair of Surgery at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received the Spingarn Medal in 1944 for his contributions to medicine.


Charles R. Drew died at the age of 46 from injuries suffered in a car accident in North Carolina.

Newspaper accounts said that the nearest hospital refused to admit Dr. Drew because of his race, and that vital time was lost in taking him further away to a black hospital. By the time he arrived there, he had lost so much blood that nothing could be done to save him. It seemed a cruel irony that the man who had done more so much to make blood transfusions available to people in trauma situations was denied a blood transfusion when he needed it. But the physicians who did treat him said that a blood transfusion was counterindicated and would have killed a man in his condition.

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